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18 Jun 2024

Don’t Wait for Black History Month to Talk About Black Muslims

Don’t Wait for Black History Month to Talk About Black Muslims

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Zahra is an Indian Iranian creative who loves learning. Her particular areas of interest are culture & identity. Outside of researching, writing and collating stories together, she’s an avid reader and traveller.

Don’t Wait for Black History Month to Talk About Black Muslims

We have a deep-rooted issue of racism within our society.

A long and wide history of colonialism, slavery and cultural genocide has led us to this very moment in time.

Things are changing. But why do the majority wait until Black history month to uplift and highlight black people?

Why is it that every year, Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali and Bilal ibn Rabah (rn) are rotated like clockwork in celebration of Black Muslim history?

The truth is, black Muslim history is far deep-rooted than anyone may believe.

It began with the very first Prophet, Adam [pbuh]. In fact, his name derives from the Arabic word, black.

Al-Tha’aalabi said in his book, Fiqh Al-Lugha:

“If the blackness of a person exceeds asmar , then he is adam.”

Remember when Your Lord said to the angels, “I am creating a human with dried clay out of dark mud‘. [15:28].

As Muslims, we should consciously try to understand our history.

In Prophet Muhammad’s (pbuh) last sermon, he stated.

O people. Your Lord is one and your father is one. (Adam) An Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab, nor a non-Arab has any superiority over Arab, also white has no superiority over a black nor does black have any superiority over white, except by piety and righteousness. All humans are from Adam and Adam is from dust.”

Yet despite the foundations of Islam being rooted in equality and peace, our community is riddled with anti-black rhetoric, intertwined with other issues like classism, colourism and superiority/ego complexes.

I spoke to Ayo, a Black Muslim community worker and Doctor. He actively works towards highlighting and uplifting black history, both in and out of Islam. He has attended protests, led protests, and was the black minority ethnic officer at his student’s union.

His work helped aid the establishment of the Centre for the study of Race and Racialisation at the Sarah Parker Remond Parker Centre at UCL.

Being black, I know racism is an issue. I’ve experienced it myself countless times. My way of coping with things back then was to keep my head down. I didn’t want to put myself at risk.

Then Alton Sterling was killed by police and the video circulated around. Philandro Castile was shot down in his car and was streamed on Facebook Live.

He was shot and killed by police in front of his daughter in what was supposed to be a routine traffic stop. Seeing these two videos in a short space of time pushed me to action.

I need to make people aware of the urgency of what racism and anti-blackness do. It’s not just an inconvenience; it can kill.

I want to connect the academia to the grassroots, to connect knowledge and make it accessible for people to understand so we can take collective action.”

Ayo is a revert to Islam. He spoke about his journey to Islam, and how this affected his community work.

When I started this journey, I felt like that aspect of the soul and spirituality was missing from any sphere I went into. We were always looking to attain material gains.

Whilst we push back on structures which propagate racism and anti-blackness and evil, how do we maintain our fire, our essence of being?

Islam was the only thing I could find which had a holistic understanding of the soul.

Black people are routinely subjugated wherever they go in the world. Even in black countries, they are oppressed, killed, and violated.

Black people more than anybody, need Islam, because it provides a holistic route for the healing of the soul, the body, and the mind.”

Ayo currently offers workshops where he discusses black history in relation to Islamic history, Quran and hadith.

The workshops were born out of a gap I identified with being a black Muslim. Sometimes you’re too Muslim for black spaces and too black for Muslim spaces.

I thought that there was a lack of education. Even back then, in the times of early Muslims, there was racism and anti-blackness.

I wanted to educate Muslims that Bilal was not the only black companion. We’ve got black Prophets. Adam [as], his name literally means extremely dark. 

We’ve got Soloman [as], Musa [as] who is said to be one of the darkest Prophets. We’ve got many examples. Even looking at companions, Ali Ibn Abu Talib, there’s much documentation in Arabic texts that he was not just dark, he was extremely dark.

Then you have other people like Safiya Bukhari, who was a Black Muslim woman and a member of the Black Panther movement. When she went to Prison, she said it was Islam and the oneness of God that helped me through her hardest times.”

‘Safiya found in Islam the strength she needed to repel the dehumanising conditions that is part of America’s prison system.  Safiya’s Islam was rooted in the fight against oppression and a love for truth and justice’ [i].

“For me, this was about bringing in all the different understandings of what it means to be black, the history of blackness in Islam, how it’s affected black people & the world, and how it relates to us today.”

From Ayo’s experience of running these workshops and being active in his community, he shares a few things.

“You need to have internal motivation to change your own personal condition and the condition of those around you.

Second of all, people need to know their place. I am not South Asian, and I don’t know about the South Asian experience, apart from things I’ve read, but I cannot experience it.

When there are intra-community discussions going on within black communities, it’s about knowing when to contribute, or if at all.

Many people do not understand what it’s like to grow up black and the struggles you face. They may know from reading the paper, but they haven’t actually experienced it.

So when people begin asserting their opinions without experience, you can be doing more damage than good.

It’s about having the wisdom to know when to speak.

Also, Masjid boards and ISOC committees shouldn’t be a South Asian exclusive club. We are living in a diverse community. Invite people from other communities and backgrounds and allow them to contribute too.

Those who use the excuse of ‘we’re simply picking those with knowledge,’ are implying there isn’t enough scholarship in other communities outside of the status quo.

The last thing is reading and education. You can’t expect black people to educate others about the experience and the traumas and histories of black people. The information is there, you know, a good resource is ‘being black and Muslim in Britain‘.

Lastly, standing up to family members and friends who make jokes about the issue of anti-blackness. They contribute to our community being less tolerant and accepting of black people.

It doesn’t mean don’t shout at them, but it means being brave and challenging them in a respectful way.

As Muslims, we have been commanded to stand up for injustice.”

Believers, stand up as Allah’s witnesses for justice even if it’s against yourselves, parents or relatives, and regardless of whether a person is wealthy or poor, Allah has more right to your loyalty than they. Therefore, do not follow your desire instead of being just. If you distort the truth or refuse to give testimony, Allah is aware of what you do. [4:135]

If you are interested in following along with Ayo’s community work, you can find out more here.

To learn more about black history and Islam, there are a variety of resources out there. A good one, to begin with, is Beyond Bilal by Mustafa Briggs.

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